Sea Change by Robert B. Parker (2006)
Jesse Stone is the Chief of Police for the small Massachusetts town of Paradise. Although you would expect such a place to be relatively quiet, you would be mistaken. Paradise is a hot bed of death, drugs and intrigue and Chief Stone is a very busy man.
In this instalment of the popular series, an unidentified body washes up at the local marina and an investigation is begun to establish firstly, who she is and, secondly, how she met her end. This turns out to be more difficult that you would think. There is a boating regatta taking place in Paradise and the place is jammed with all manner of strange yacht crews and their clientele. These are a very insular group with little time for police inquiries and Jesse becomes increasingly frustrated as he meets one brick wall after another.
Eventually the dead woman’s identity is discovered and with it comes a descent into the seedier side of yachting. It turns out that there are those within the fraternity who like to engage in wild sex parties. Partners are swapped on a regular basis, videos shot, and sometimes things can get out of hand. Jesse becomes convinced that Florence Horvath, the recently deceased drownee, was murdered by one of two rich yacht-owners but he doesn’t know why. Yet.
Horvath’s life was a mess. She came from a dysfunctional but very rich family resident in Florida. The father appears completely detached from reality and the mother is a barely functioning lush. There are two younger twin sisters, Corliss and Claudia, who appear to have fared no better in how they turned out. Both were also dragged into the sex scene of the yachting world by their older sibling, much to their mother’s sometimes nonchalant dismay.
Jesse Stone and his colleagues are disturbed by how sordid the behaviour of the wealthy is. It seems to them as if the more money there is the less the morality. Decadence seems to breed sleazy conduct as the uber-rich ignore all conventional norms of social behaviour. The story paints a very bleak picture of life among the idle rich of the US yachting community.
Robert B. Parker is best known for being the creator of Spencer, the Boston PI with a penchant for trouble and righting wrongs. In Jesse Stone, however, Parker has created a rawer and more edgy character. Stone is no stranger to a sexually liberated lifestyle. He is trying to make a go of it with his ex-wife Jenn who cheated on him in the past. Jesse is on the wagon and going through the process of self-recrimination for his alcohol-abusing past. He blames himself for Jenn’s indiscretions. But is he being too hard on himself?
In the story-lines of this series, Parker has moved the goalposts slightly but in a good way. Whilst Spencer was tough and dealt with horrible scenes and people, Stone is altogether more real. The content of this tale, for example, is one that Spencer would never have dealt with. There is mention and description of sexual intercourse, sex-toys, kinks and perversions. It’s a dark plot set in a brightly-lit coastal town. The profound juxtaposition of natural beauty and human ugliness is stark. It works.
Having said that, Sea Change is not a gloomy story. Stone is a likeable personality and works well with his colleagues. The dialogue is punchy, as is usual for Parker, and the pace fast. It never lets go. There are twists aplenty as the action moves from Massachusetts to Florida and the answer to what happened to Florence is not what you might at first expect. It’s a tough conclusion.
Rebel Voice would describe Sea Change as an easy read. The heavy issues tackled are not presented in a laborious fashion. They are clearly offered but not to a nauseating extent. The entire book works well on every level. It’s not award-winning stuff but is solid nonetheless, and a welcome addition to a fine series.
Sult scale rating: 7 out of 10. In the genre of crime thriller, Sea Change is a decent read that should hold the attention of just about everyone. It’s considerate in the manner in which it looks at tougher topics without being too squelchy. Rebel Voice would recommend this book for some light(ish) entertainment.